By Marlee Moses
Image by: Emily Bucholz
Like many others before me, I became fascinated with the unfolding of the childbearing year as I navigated that transitional space for the first time myself. Reproductive health and justice were passions of mine prior to my being pregnant. I even had experience facilitating workshops on the topic, but this fascination was something altogether different.
It was mysterious to me, growing a child, witnessing the changing of my body and mind. I felt as though I could not possibly learn all that I wanted to know about the entire process. From my own physical health to eventually caring for a human being, the information was endless. Twelve years on, I have yet to satiate that desire for more knowledge.
The prenatal care I received and the birth of my eldest were the opposite of what I had wished for. Limited by financial resources and the confining bureaucracy of Medicaid, I was pushed into a prenatal clinic and then a birthing environment that were antithetical to what I knew, based on my research, to be best for both me and my child. My hands were tied (metaphorically) and I felt resigned to accept the impersonal care I was offered.
Young and worried, I did my best to navigate a health care system that was not set up to support me in a holistic way or honor my personal decisions regarding my and my baby’s care. I felt belittled by my care provider and reduced to a specimen in the teaching hospital where I gave birth for the first time. I longed for a companion, someone who had been through this before and who wouldn’t tell me simply to be happy that my child was healthy. I walked away from that experience with my eyes set toward change. I knew others must have been experiencing the same and much worse, and wanting to find a way to be helpful.
After the birth of my daughter and having been invited into the birthing room twice by dear friends, I decided to formally train as a doula. I hoped that this would be the path forward to offer support to others from a place of compassionate service. I wanted to continue to learn and share with others, to help future clients find the evidence-based information they were looking for so that they could make informed decisions for themselves and their families, cultivating a sense of empowerment within themselves all the while.
During my first training, our instructor told us that we, as doulas, must become like water. And I’ve mulled this phrase over many times in the three years since I heard her say it, asking for its full meaning to be revealed to me. I have taken this phrase with me as both a gift and a guide while navigating the path of birth work. With each new client, I continue to ask, what does it mean to be one of water?
Water finds a way. It follows the path of gravity, being drawn into open spaces and easily filling the gaps it finds. When a person is in need of answers, I point them toward what they are looking for, often pulling from sources I have already discovered, seeking out new information and leaning into the local birth community to access the collective wisdom they hold. I offer information, presenting facts about the risks and benefits of different care and intervention options, so that each client can make the best, informed decision for themselves, personally. I am there to support their decisions. I am there to help them find a way to have their needs met.
In its purest form, water is clear. It is transparent and open to change. I must show up for my clients. With my full, honest self, I seek to enter the birthing room and remain present both physically and emotionally. To occupy the vacant space between the clinician and birthing person can facilitate continuity of care and can contribute to an overall sense of well being. Like water, a curious and present doula, is a valuable resource.
Water is fluid. It is malleable. Each client is different. They come into the childbearing experience with their own individual history, learning style, fears, and aspirations. I bring no set agenda. And while my own experience is what brought me to birth work, and for that I am grateful, I must set the details of that experience aside. Like water, I mold to the specific desires of those that I serve. And this simplicity of my role I aspire to most.
Marlee Moses is the owner of Birch Tree Birth Services, providing birth and postpartum doula services. She also has a knack for plants. She resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two children.
Emily Bucholz is a Philadelphia-based photographer and owner of Tell the Bees Photography, focusing on child and family lifestyle portraits and events.
Follow Marlee and Emily on Instagram.